In this work of fiction I have used the term The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) rather than the more familiar Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The term Daesh (al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām) is a mealy-mouthed attempt by Western liberal politicians to deflect attention away from the undisputable fact that ISIL atrocities are committed in the name of Islam. The characters are fictional and any similarity in names to real persons is coincidental. The locations are real.
Coalition Headquarters Qatar October 2014
She was the appealing one who stood slightly in the background, but close enough to the action on the main actors for the cameras to notice. Her combat shirt was starched, like an armure de cuirasse protecting her breasts, notable and more than hinted underneath all of that military paraphernalia. Her hair was short, cutesy. Her face was expressionless, not watching the cameras, but the so-called journalists who frantically scanned their crib sheets, some of them getting last minute instructions from their editors by cell phone. She knew the enemy in its many guises. The BBC staffer with his ridiculously dyed hair and penchant for rent boys. The ABC anchor with the alcohol problem. The CNN dyke with the insatiable Charlie and Horse habit, which would eventually kill her in a Jakarta hotel’s Jacuzzi, because she mixed up her Charlies with her Horses.
How she hated them. They barely looked at her, thinking she was some bag-carrier. The Air Vice-Marshal’s (AVM’s) pretty little Aide de Camp, a bit of fluff. She was only a flight lieutenant legal officer, but in another life she had been a successful barrister in a Birmingham firm having breezed through the bar exam. But she became interested in military law and the law of armed conflict and joined the RAF because of the lifestyle, opportunities, but certainly not for the pay. She was currently the chief legal advisor to the Air Component Commander, in the coalition headquarters in Qatar. Basically she told the two-winged master race what they could and couldn’t bomb and quite often they didn’t appreciate the advice.
But it was a sad morning in the headquarters, both for the RAF contingent and her personally, when they found out one of the Tornados had been reported as missing. The aircraft was from her home base of Marham and she knew the crew of the missing aircraft. This was why the media packed the conference room, like carrion picking through the bones of a downed lion. To her they were just salacious filth, looking for an angle so they could spin this for the benefit of their editors, certainly not to truthfully report events to their readers and viewers.
The Air Vice-Marshal appeared from behind the stage and went to the podium. Immediately the hubbub in the room increased and he waited for it to die down.
“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will read a brief, prepared statement and then take questions from the floor.
“Last night, four Tornado GR4s were conducting offensive air operations over Iraq. This was part of the Coalition joint directive to restrict the ability of the self-proclaimed Islamic State to manoeuvre. The missions as directed in the Coalition Air Tasking Order, were for strategic effect. The attack was conducted in two waves, the first wave targeting the enemy’s strategic centres of gravity. The second wave was an armed reconnaissance operation to target the enemy’s reaction to the first strike with precision guided munitions.
“A number of targets were successfully attacked and destroyed. However, tragically during the recovery phase of the operation, a Tornado aircraft went missing and failed to return to its operational base. Despite an extensive air and ground search by Coalition assets, we have been unable to find any trace of a crash site and fear that the aircraft may well have gone down in the sea. Despite the operating difficulties, combat search and rescue teams will continue to scour the operational area for any signs of the missing aircraft and its crew.
“I’ll now take questions from the floor.”
The BBC reporter kicked off as though it were his God given right, “Where was the aircraft based?”
The Air Vice-Marshal knew that this was so the BBC could get a larger team into Akrotori for a holiday in the sun, “I’m not at liberty to disclose aircraft basing due to operational security.”
“With respect, it is no secret that the RAF have based four Tornados in Cyprus.”
The AVM smiled. It was actually eight now, well seven, “It’s also no secret that there are coalition air assets based here in Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.” He deliberately didn’t mention the air assets based in Turkey and Jordan because of the sensitive nature of their missions.
“Perhaps you could ask your BBC staff based in Cyprus if they had counted them out and counted them back in,” the AVM delivered with more than a hint of sarcasm. The legal officer frowned. Much as she had enjoyed seeing the BBC correspondent put in his place and the tittering amongst the gathered correspondents, it wouldn’t do to make an enemy of him.
“Air Vice-Marshal, was the missing aircraft based in the area, or was it flown directly from the UK with tanker support?”
He had to hand it to him. The Sun’s military correspondent was on top of his game, “I’m sorry but I don’t see the relevance of the question.”
“What I’m trying to ascertain is whether crew fatigue could have been a contributing factor.”
The AVM glanced across at the legal officer and she nodded imperceptibly, “The aircraft was based within this theatre of operations.”
“Was your aircraft shot down by a Russian aircraft or missile?” The CNN’s correspondent made it sound like a demand rather than a question.
The legal officer sighed inwardly. It was always the Russians as far as these unhinged paranoiacs were concerned.
“We don’t believe that the Russians were involved,” the AVM assured her.
“But how can you be sure Air-Marshal?”
Because we pass the Russians copies of our Air Tasking Orders and generally, they pass theirs to us, you junkie bitch, “It’s Air-Vice-Marshal actually, but thanks for the promotion. We had airborne surveillance aircraft flying last night and they would have detected air and ground search and tracking radars.”
The reporter from the Guardian asked if the aircrafts’ tracks had involved overflying Syria. This was an easy one for the AVM to bat away, “I’m afraid I can’t discuss routings or altitudes due to operational security.”
As the questions became less frequent, the legal officer was beginning to think they might have got away with it. The Reuters correspondent asked for the names of the crew, but the AVM responded that this would remain on hold until the next of kin had been informed. And then it came from the back of the room like a googly. The AVM was gathering his notes and then noticed the hand raised towards the back of the room.
The reporter stated his name and the publication he worked for, in this case the Huffington Post, “Sir, is it true that one of the missing aircrew is female?”
They had rehearsed for this question from the early hours of that morning. She had told him what to say and how to react. But his body language gave it away. The imperceptible stiffening and the glace towards her. The senior officer recovered quickly, but the more astute in the audience picked it up straight away.
“I’ll refer you to an answer I gave earlier. Until the next of kin have been notified, I really can’t answer that question.”
But the cat was out of the bag and a clamour of questions rose as the military left the stage and disappeared behind the curtains to their rear.
“What the hell is the Huffington Post and how the bloody hell did he know?” he demanded of his legal officer as if it were her fault.
“Sir, I believe the Huffington Post UK is a syndicated…”
“You said the questions were vetted,”
She felt her cheeks beginning to burn, “It was an obvious question, sir and we prepared for it.”
“So how the bloody hell did he know? The BBC were warned off, as were the Telegraph and Guardian, Mail and Express, and yet a News Outlet I haven’t heard of had the story. How come?”
“I really don’t know, sir.”
“Not good enough!”
She watched him stalk off and sighed. She felt tears begin to prickle in her eyes and rubbed them irritably. For God’s sake, get a grip, she told herself angrily. She went to one of the headquarters’ media rooms, almost chill with air conditioning, the TV monitors showing Al Jazeera, Russia Today and CNN. Fortunately the room was empty apart from her and she wept because of the damned unfairness of life and fate.
Némésis – Book 1 Part 1
Dayrabun, Northern Iraq, 01:20 Local, November 2017
The two Supacat HMT 400 reconnaissance vehicles, were drawn up in a laager just below the crest of the hill line. They had been lightly camouflaged with IR resistant netting and the eight members of the Mobility Troop and their intriguing additional passenger had dismounted. They were spread out along the hill line and were peering, some through NVGs at the small town below. Because they were so close to the River Tigris, they could smell the earthy freshness of the water. It was a welcome change from the dusty heat of the plains they had traversed after crossing the Turkish border.
The line of hills they occupied stretched east to west like a finger pointing at the small town, or rather what was left of it. These hills had been the final refuge of the Yazidis women and children, while their menfolk were slaughtered below. And then ISIL had come for them, for rapine and more slaughter. This area was known as the “weeping hills,” a place that shamed mankind and the religion of the prophet.
All around them in the night sky, unseen above was the rumble of jet engines. The ground seemed to shake under them as a fighter-bomber engaged re-heat, white hot spears of light cutting the purple blackness. Far to the south, a ribbon of tracer wobbled upwards, like tiny, incandescent pearls and then there was a brilliant flash. Moments later they heard the chack-chack-chack of the heavy machine gun and the huge boom of the bomb. The gun didn’t fire again.
The patrol commander was closest to their passenger and he nestled beside her to murmur in her ear. She smelled very appealing, nothing like perfume, perhaps a hint of spice, almost exotic.
She turned to face him, her hijab catching on his stubble. Apart from the hijab, she was dressed exactly as they were, carried the same weapons, but with no underslung grenade launcher.
“No they’re not. They’re here, all round us.”
“This could go on all bloody night,” he muttered irritably, “I thought we were supposed to be on the same side.”
“They don’t take sides. We’re useful to them at the moment, but they aren’t on our side.”
He sighed, “Well in that case, you’re going to have to go down and make contact with them, Ripley.”
They had christened her “Ripley” because she wouldn’t tell them what her real name was. The name had stuck after one of them had done a very good Private Hudson impression from the film Aliens. He had the hip-thrusting swagger off to perfection and it was his party piece.
“I’m ready, man. Check it out! I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do not want to fuck with me. Check it out! Hey, Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out. Independently targeting particle-beam phalanx. WHAP! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse carbines, RPGs. We got sonic, electronic ball-breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”
Ripley had stuck and she hadn’t even minded. She had been accepted.
“Are you serious?”
“Well you speaka da lingo.”
“I speak Arabic, Pashto, Farsi but my Sorani is crap.”
“Then flutter your eyes at them. They are rather nice, it has to be said.”
“Piss off!” Nevertheless, she stood up slowly and moved out of cover carefully going down the slope. Her C8 carbine was carried out of the aim at her side. She stopped and listened, but heard only the sound of jets, then carried on. To her left she heard the snick of a weapon’s safety catch going off.
“Dîsa hêdî.” Said a woman’s voice to her right quietly. She stood still.
“Tu kê yî?”
“Hêzên Taybet ên Brîtanî. British Special Forces,” she repeated in English as if to prove the fact.
A figure to her right stood up and slowly moved towards her. It was a member of the Kurdish Womens’ Defence Units. They stared at each other in the darkness. They were probably about the same age.
“We don’t like the English,” said the Kurdish fighter, “You have a bad history in our country and are not to be trusted.”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“The Kurdish woman chuckled and embraced this stranger in her land, “But you are not English. You are Persian. What do they call you?”
“They call me Ripley. But nonetheless I am as English as you are Kurdish. Where are the men?”
“Fighting Daesh. We could be spared to meet you, although we would rather be with our men. How many are you?”
“Nine including me. Two vehicles.”
“Tell them to come down on foot apart from the vehicle drivers. The vehicles follow, no lights.”
Ripley keyed her throat mike, “Did you get that, Starshine?”
They heard the diesel engines rumble quietly into life and six troopers advanced cautiously down the slope in a staggered line. The vehicles crested the rise, darker shapes against the night sky. Other figures detached themselves from cover, some twelve or so Kurds. Ripley turned to the woman who had met her and was obviously the patrol leader.
“What’s your name?”
“Where are we going, Medya?”
“To our base in Dayrabun, although there was nothing much left of the town when Daesh pulled out.”
They picked up the road and followed south-west down into the town. Even on the outskirts there were burned-out vehicles and the scattered remains of corpses.
“We don’t bury them, we just let the dogs take their fill. If there are many we dig a pit and burn them. Sometimes, there are some who are still alive. We don’t care. It is as nothing to what they would do to us. We try not to be taken alive and keep a last grenade for us… And them.”
There was a time when a little girl from Derby would have been horrified and sickened by what she had heard. But that was a long time ago and certain things during the fourteen intervening years couldn’t have been unheard or unseen.
The Kurdish fighters’ base was in an underground garage on the main road towards Syria. It was surprisingly clean and homely, with carpets and rugs on the floors and walls. Off the main area were separate living quarters for men and women, storerooms and an infirmary. The area was heated and lit by paraffin stoves and hurricane lanterns and the women watched with interest as the men filed in and sat down cross-legged on the mats. Ripley introduced the patrol leader to them.
“Medya, this is Major Halward.”
He nodded his head politely, making no move to try and shake the woman’s hand. This was his third five-year tour as an officer in 22 SAS and his fifth tour in Iraq. Medya smiled shyly. Despite his beard, Halward was a ruggedly handsome man. Unfortunately, he knew it.
“Ma’am, I see you have casualties in your sick bay. If you would allow it, our patrol medics could see if they can help. Additionally, we have a surgical facility at an airfield just across the border.”
“Thank you, for the offer. We are grateful and your medics can see if they can help. Two of our number are badly hurt, but we take our chances here and would never go into Turkey, unless it was to liberate our homeland. Please bring in your bedding and make yourselves comfortable with our men. You will sleep with us, Ripley.”
As they filed out for their kit, Halward sidled up to Ripley, “Obviously not much opportunity for hanky-panky. We’ll just have to take our chances when they come.”
“I would rather chew my own arm off,” She told him.
They settled into what would become a strange, exhilarating and brutal life for the next four months.
Major Paul Halward “Starshine”
Warrant Officer Hogan “Mr H or Hotel”
Sergeant “Ruth” James Ellis
Corporal “Manny” Cohen
Dr Mengele, Corporal Jamie Cairns
Dr Shipman “Shippers” Corporal Roberts
Signaller “Frank” Carson
Lance-Corporal “Larry” Grayson
Special guest appearance
Ripley “Babel Fish or Scheherazade.”
© Blown Periphery 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file